The Charleston food scene is always changing, with restaurants coming and going, menus shifting with the seasons and new chefs taking over kitchens. But one thing that’s constant? There’s always something great to try in town. Here are some of the City Paper’s staff and writers’ favorite meals and cocktails of the year:
Menorquina Gin Tonic from Estadio
The cocktail I drank the most this year was without a doubt Estadio’s perfect gin and tonic. Cold, crisp and herbaceous with a thick sprig of rosemary and house-made tonic, the Menorquina is my ideal cocktail to sip on a warm evening. An added bonus to these (very) frequent visits: The wonderful Estadio staff has started to feel like family.
Sunday Gravy from Lupara pop-up at Bar George
Every time the Bar George crew hosts a Lupara Italian pop-up, I show up the minute the doors open. The offerings change at each event, but November’s menu was a decadent, family-style feast: warm focaccia with whipped ricotta and honey-fermented garlic, a huge Caesar salad with dill and chili crumbs, a heaping bowl of Sunday ragu and a cannoli-and-cheesecake-filled dessert cart. No notes.
Find out where to try Lupara by following @lupara.chs on Instagram.
Taco sabroso from Dos Taqueria and iced Americano from Sightsee
With inhalable tacos on handmade corn tortillas, Dos Taqueria is doing everything right. My favorite weekend routine revolves around ordering what locals in the neighborhood call the “Line Street Special” — at least three tacos sabrosos filled with tinga (chicken cooked in a red chili sauce) from the Line Street taco shop and an iced Americano from Sightsee just a few blocks down. The coffee shop switched over to Brandywine Coffee Roasters this year, which has taken its already excellent drinks up a notch.
Grilled oysters from The Longboard
I recently discovered Oyster Hour at The Longboard on Sullivan’s Island, which happens every day from 3 to 6 p.m. and features discounted oysters and cocktails. The grilled oysters absolutely blew me away. They were so buttery and topped with the perfect amount of crunchy breadcrumbs and herbs. Plus, you can get a dozen for $24 during this bivalve-forward happy hour.
Tiraditos from Pisco Mar
Pisco Mar recently opened in the Port of Call food hall and while the entire eight-course tasting menu was phenomenal, the tiraditos (thinly sliced yellowtail coated in an aji Amarillo sauce) really stood out for me. In my opinion, chef Esteban Diaz needs to bottle that sauce and sell it. It was acidic, slightly spicy, tangy and extremely delicious. I nearly licked the plate.
The Spicy Sandwich from Cold Shoulder Gourmet
“Don’t be mad; be early,” is the slogan of this sandwich shop for a reason. These sammies sell out quickly, so I like to go early in the morning to get my spicy sandwich fix and say hello to my new bestie, owner Craig Edmunds. The sandwich is perfectly balanced from the tender, herbaceous focaccia and spicy truffle hot sauce to the salty parmesan and delicate black truffle cream.
Dry rub chicken wings from Herd Provisions
I tried these wings for the first time before hopping on a six-hour flight across the country, and what a good choice. The wings were incredibly moist and pulled right off the bone. The dry rub seasoning was a perfect blend of spicy and savory combined with a bit of sweetness from the ranch. The best part? For $10, you get eight large wings, something of a rarity in Charleston these days.
Sesame seed pancakes from Vern’s
These pancakes were probably some of the fluffiest, tastiest pancakes I’ve ever had. The sesame seeds add a nutty, natural sweetness to the pancake, and a little bit of a crunch for some added texture. The pancakes are served three in a stack and topped with whipped ricotta and seasonal fruit. The first time I had these pancakes, peaches were in season, and the sliced peaches added a light, floral flair. Each bite was a combination of complementing flavors and diverse textures. This winter season, apples bring chilly weather vibes to the stack.
Smoked La Chang sausage rice bowl from King BBQ
Shuai and Corrie Wang of Jackrabbit Filly announced plans earlier this year to open new Chinese barbecue concept King BBQ in 2023. To get the community excited about the new restaurant, they started weekly pop-ups at Edmund’s Oast Brewing Co. every Tuesday. While the Wang’s brought an entirely new concept and menu with items like roast half duck and cha chao spare ribs, it was the La Chang sausage that stole the show for me. The sausage is a wonderful combination of savory, sweet and smoky. But eating it with the rice bowl is the real kicker — soy pickles and a scallion ginger relish cut through the savory, while the white rice helped bring a balance and meld the flavors together. Safe to say, I can’t wait for King BBQ to open next year.
Throwback Crunchwrap from Bangin’ Vegan Eats
I have not stopped thinking about Bangin’ Vegan Eats since the first time I tasted the absolutely decadent vegan junk food from this food truck. The “throwback crunchwrap” is like Taco Bell’s much-loved item, stuffed with “beef,” cheese, sour cream and lettuce, but without actual animal products, which makes it one thousand times better to me. (And you would never know the difference!)
Double Ninth Moon from Kwei Fei
The cocktail of my dreams is the Double Ninth Moon at Kwei Fei. The drink is cool as a cucumber, with a splash of tequila and works as the perfect counterpart to the spicy Szechuan food. (Pro tip: Kwei Fei also has great vegan options!)
Tidewater Shrimp from Island Cabana Bar
These boiled shrimp are perfectly cooked with “tidewater” seasoning. Island Cabana Bar is on the water at Seabreeze Marina downtown. Enjoy fresh seafood inside or out on the pier while splitting a bucket of beers.
Manicotti from Mondo’s
The house-made pasta and fresh marinara sauce used to make Mondo’s manicotti took me right back to my Italian grandmother’s kitchen. Stuffed with ricotta, rolled up like an Italian tamale and topped with fresh tomato sauce, this manicotti dish is comforting and tastes like home.
S.C. Snapper ceviche from Delany Oyster House
You may think of ceviche as a summertime snack, but I could eat this dish all year round. The local snapper is so light, tender and flavorful and the acidity of the citrus adds a beautiful freshness. Spicy peanut chili crisps pack a slight heat and unique texture. It was so good, I ordered a second helping for dessert. (I’m not alone: The server said diners often start and finish their meals with this dish.)
Charleston’s forever-changing food scene
Another year has passed and with it, Charleston saw an influx of new restaurants opening doors and established ones expanding. But it also saw the fall of many long-standing spots like Caroline’s Aloha Bar (formerly VooDoo Lounge), Philly’s in Summerville and more. While it was sad to see these places go, it’s exciting to welcome in new concepts like Raw Lab’s raw bar omakase experience or Jackrabbit Filly owner’s upcoming concept King BBQ, currently operating as a pop-up with plans for a brick-and-mortar in 2023.
Let’s give one final goodbye to the restaurants who shut doors this year:
- Bacco Italian Restaurant (Mount Pleasant)
- Black Magic Cafe (James Island)
- Caroline’s Aloha Bar (West Ashley)
- Cuban Gypsy Pantry (North Charleston)
- Cupcake Down South (Mount Pleasant)
- d.d. Pecker’s Wing Shack (West Ashley)
- Daniel Island Grille (Daniel Island)
- Florence’s Lowcountry Kitchen (West Ashley)
- Gnome Cafe (Downtown)
- Kaminsky’s (West Ashley)
- Ladles (West Ashley)
- Monza (Downtown)
- Nana’s Uptown (North Charleston)
- Philly’s (Summerville)
- Sunflower Cafe (West Ashley)
- Sweetwater Cafe (James Island)
And a warm welcome to those that joined the Charleston community:
- 167Bar (Downtown)
- Baguette Magic (Downtown)
- Bar on the Avenue (North Charleston)
- Bar Rollins (Downtown)
- Bevi Bene (Summerville)
- Bexley Fish & Raw Bar (Summerville)
- Bodega (Downtown)
- Cafecito (Downtown)
- Cold Shoulder Gourmet (West Ashley)
- El Callao (North Charleston)
- Gingerline (Downtown)
- Heavy’s Barburger (Downtown)
- Holey City Bagels (Downtown)
- Iron Rose Bar & Restaurant (Downtown)
- Islander 71 Fish House and Deck Bar (IOP)
- Laura (Summerville)
- Millers All Day (James Island)
- Minero (Johns Island)
- Rancho Lewis (Downtown)
- RITUAL Rooftop Restaurant & Lounge (Downtown)
- Ruby Sunshine (West Ashley)
- Share House (Downtown)
- Spice Palette (Mount Pleasant)
- The Black Door Cafe (Downtown)
- The Caviar Bar at Zero George (Downtown)
- The Press (Downtown)
- Three Sirens (North Charleston)
- Vern’s (Downtown)
- Weezy’s (Johns Island)
- Wisconsin Meat & Cheese (James Island)
Editor’s note: These are not comprehensive lists.
Top 10 food news stories of the year
There’s been a lot of food news this year, but here’s some of our favorites:
- A look into some of Mount Pleasant’s oldest go-to restaurants
- Greg Johnsman of Marsh Hen Mill talks birds, blessings, life and legacy at the mill
- Inside the “weird” and whimsical world of Life Raft Treats
- Keeping it fresh: What sustainable fishing looks like
- Looking back at the food and places we miss
- Neighborhood restaurants become a treasured part of the community
- Restaurants continue adjusting to rising costs
- Rolling with the punches
- Smash City Burgers takes on 30 burgers in 30 days
- What’s so great about pizza, anyway?
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